I learned a lot about money in a very short conversation. I also learned about work. The conversation took place during a brief encounter on the trail to Four Lakes Basin in the Uinta Mountains. The other hikers passed us once and we passed them once. I don't know their names. Seems all of us were taking a last junket before school started this fall. Besides, its the best time to hike, after most of the mosquitoes, deer flies and hikers have abandoned the wilderness area.
On the first pass one of the hikers mentioned that she was studying art at Utah State University and would finish up a master's degree this year. Somebody mentioned that it is hard to make a living as an artist and then we moved on.On the second pass, I asked if she sells much of her work. She said that the only time she has a sale is when her studio gets too crowded. Then she has a show and sells everything that she doesn't want to keep for herself. She said that thinking about selling her art interferes with her relationship with her work. Then she moved on and our trails didn't cross again.
I thought about what she said for the next few miles and I think I understand.
Painting for some imaginary buyer could somehow taint the effort. It would be even more difficult to paint a specific request. The artist could be more interested in the potential buyer than art.
Consider the way a child paints. The child is more interested in the process than the product and it is often irrelevant to ask of the finished piece, "What is it?" To the child it may not be a picture of anything. It's just a picture - and an experience. To ask a child to identify his subject is to narrow the experience. If it has to be something, then the creative experience is something less. Sometimes to please the questioning adult, the child will make something up on the spot. Although there was no thought about what the painting was when it was being created, the question requires that the child suddenly decide that the painting is something when in fact the painting is an experience and not a picture at all.
I thought about this the other day as I read the Bible. In his Revelation, John says that he "saw a new heaven and a new earth." What exactly did he see? Did he see a world spinning in space or was his view more specific? Perhaps he saw New York City, but it's hard to see a whole city. What street did he see? Perhaps since he saw peace he really saw Ephraim, Utah. It may be that there are no words to describe what he saw and that saying a new world is the only generalization that his finite words could make.
Would that John were an artist. When there are no words to describe, there is art, not necessarily art produced to sell. The artist child paints what words can't express, and "What is it?" is just not a relevant question about an experience.
I wondered for the next few miles after our brief conversation if money interfered with my relationship with my work at Snow College. I have noticed over the years that people who work for money often find drudgery. They count hours, keep track of vacation days, use all possible sick leave, and check out promptly at five o'clock even though they didn't get started until 8:30 that morning. Those who work for money have it rough. It's hard work for them.
Then there are those who work for something other than money. Their work invigorates them and they often can't distinguish work from play. When an English teacher takes a novel home to read and to prepare for class, is he working or is this recreation? I carried a book on my recent trip to the wilderness area. I'll use what I read in the Uintas in class this winter. Should I count my camping reading as work or play? Should I count it at all? Why bother to count it as anything? Keeping count would be like working for money and would interfere with my relationship to my work.
I think what the brief visit with my artist friend from Utah State taught me is the same thing that some businesses have discovered. It isn't necessarily the salary that motivates employees. In fact, salary probably comes in after recognition, a feeling that the work is important and appreciated, and the satisfaction that may be vested in the job itself.
It may not be true for the artist, but in my profession, I think that appreciation may head the list of things that motivate teachers. This past week I got a note from a former student asking for a reference for a project she is working on at Brigham Young University. Tucked away in the request were a few sentences that said thanks; that will take me much further this month than my paycheck. Mixed in with the junk mail from booksellers and publishers that I get every day was a note from my president saying thanks for my editorial work on a recent project; although his thanks may be in lieu of a raise, it may actually go further than a few more dimes in my pay envelope that I share with FICA, IRS, SS, Zion's Bank and Pam.
I expect that my artist friend is not looking for thanks or sales. She is looking for satisfaction. She wants to step back and look at her work and say, "that's what I meant," and not have to explain it to anyone. I think she may want what all of us really want from our work. I, too, like to step back sometimes and look at my work and feel good, that's what I really did that week in the Uintas.